Recalled Ford urges England to 'embrace pressure' against All Blacks

Tokyo (AFP) –


England recalled George Ford at fly-half on Thursday for their World Cup semi-final against New Zealand with the Leicester stand-off adamant they were willing to "embrace the pressure" against the world champions.

Ford came off the bench during England's 40-16 quarter-final win over Australia.

But he is back in the starting XV for Saturday's match against the reigning world champions in Yokohama.

"I've got a different role this week to last week but my job for the team doesn't change," Ford said.

"We come up against a team with strengths all over the field. We are going to have to be on our toes, alive in every moment of the game."

England captain Owen Farrell, who started at fly-half against the Wallabies, moves to inside centre with Manu Tuilagi alongside him in midfield.

Henry Slade drops down to the bench for the most important match of veteran Australian coach Jones's four-year reign with England, pitting the world's number two side against top-ranked New Zealand.

In-form wing Jonny May, who scored two tries against Australia, has been passed fit after leaving the field shortly before the end of the Wallabies' match with a hamstring problem.

Ford has been one of England's leading players at Japan 2019 and was named man of the match in a pool win against the United States.

But concerns about the threat posed by Australia powerhouse midfielder Samu Kerevi saw him benched for the quarter-final.

Ford's inclusion is set to bolster England's kicking and distribution options, with All Blacks centres Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue not posing the same physical threat as Kerevi.

"We just feel it's the right combination this week," Jones told reporters of his decision to revert to a dual playmaker system featuring childhood friends Ford and Farrell.

"Whenever you play against New Zealand your work off the ball is going to be massively important.

"They like to move the ball around, they are very good on transition and George's work-rate off the ball has been absolutely exceptional."

New Zealand, who have not lost a World Cup match since a 2007 quarter-final defeat by France, will head into this weekend's clash as favourites.

But Ford insisted England "wouldn't want to be anywhere else", adding: "We enjoy the pressure, we want to embrace it and I think we will do."

England have won just seven of their 41 Tests against New Zealand -- who hammered Ireland 46-14 in the last eight -- and they have lost all three of their previous World Cup encounters against the All Blacks.

- 'Two heavyweights' -

But several members of the current side featured the last time England beat the All Blacks in a 38-21 victory at Twickenham seven years ago, and were also involved in the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad that drew a Test series in New Zealand.

"I think traditionally when you play against New Zealand the pace and intensity of the game gets you," said Jones, Australia's coach when they beat the All Blacks in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup.

"I think if you have experienced that before you understand what you have got to prepare yourself for and most of our squad have been involved in those games so we've got great experience."

England have also known they were in line for a semi-final against New Zealand ever since the World Cup pool draw took place in May 2017, with Jones confident that meant they were "ready to go".

"It's going to be a great contest, isn't it? Two heavyweights, one dressed in black, one dressed in white. You couldn't think of a better scenario."

The only other change to England's matchday 23 sees back-row Mark Wilson replace Lewis Ludlam on the bench.

New Zealand named their side earlier Thursday, with the inclusion of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker the only change for a game coach Steve Hansen said could be one "for the ages".